Frictionless Findings: Optimizing Lost and Found Services for a Seamless Guest Experience

All guests are wary of losing important items on the road. When an item is lost at a hotel, guests might dread going through the hotel’s process to claim what’s missing. There isn’t an industry-wide lost and found operating standard, so while hotels strive to have successful pre-stay and on-property experiences, many neglect post-stay experiences, including lost and found operations. Founder and CEO of cloud-based lost and found technology BOUNTE Stephen Sinclair says, “If hotel staff aren’t managing the post-stay experience correctly, it’s going to literally be the last impression a guest has of that property.”

Pain points in lost and found operations include time-consuming and inconsistent tracking and labeling systems, failing to store items securely so they are easy to identify, and running afoul of data privacy legislation. It’s important for hoteliers to implement best practices to ensure lost and found operations function seamlessly; as Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer for Chargerback Michael “Mac” McLaughlin shares, “When you apply best practices to a disorderly situation, you can really move the wheel up. And any time you can return an item, that’s going to be a little gold star to your customer satisfaction.”

Here are four best practices from lost and found experts when it comes to successful operations:

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Digitize Operations

Human error and common mistakes can occur when team members are inputting information about found items by hand. And in today’s environment where many properties are short-staffed, those team members who manage lost and found operations are wearing multiple hats, and lost and found operations aren’t their main priority. “It’s an operational nightmare,” Sinclair reflects. “What many do is they collect all the lost stuff and just put it aside until the end of the day because guests are coming and going and checking in and checking out. And nobody wants to do that job when there are staffing shortages everywhere. You’re trying to create and maintain a level of operational integrity while maintaining a high level of guest experience.”

To make sure team members aren’t adding too much onto their plates, McLaughlin suggests having one team member in charge of the lost and found to make the digitized experience more seamless. He explains, “The most important thing for any hotel to centralize their lost and found is to assign somebody for the department that can be in charge of it. Everything flows from there.”

Implementing a digitized software for lost and found operations allows guests to manage their lost items on their own terms and gives team members the ability to best manage their time.

Individualize Labels

By efficiently labeling lost items from the start, team members are later able to easily access and retrieve each respective item for its owner. QR codes, barcodes, and the like add unique identification to items and makes for a straightforward retrieval process. “It’s a lot easier to scan a QR code, which reduces the number of times it takes to retrieve the items,” Sinclair says.ƒ

There are multiple ways to correctly store items, too, McLaughlin shares. “You’ve got to secure those items,” he says. “Put a tag on there that’s unique to that item. Use a barcode scanner or a handheld device and scan the barcode or QR code and find all that data on the found item. And then take that item and put it on orderly and arranged storage shelves. If you found it and then you lost it in the lost and found department, that’s not good.”

And when it comes to storing items, security is of the utmost importance. James Mosieur, director of 911 Cell Phone Bank—an organization that facilitates donations of lost and found electronic devices to vulnerable individuals, agencies in need, and classrooms—says, “Secure items somewhere that’s locked and in a controlled area, whether that’s a room or a cabinet. Basically, treat them like you would treat someone’s credit card or their identification. You don’t want that information getting out to just anyone walking through the lost and found department or walking through security or housekeeping. So, make sure the devices are secured so people can’t get to them.”

Make it Seamless

The only way a system works is if the users can seamlessly figure out the software. “You’ve got to make it super easy for your staff to put the found items into hopefully a software system, not just a typical form or spreadsheet,” McLaughlin says. “When you take a picture of an item, there’s software that will automatically classify it, detects its color, and grab other unique attributes so you can confirm with the guest that the item is theirs.”

Sinclair says it’s important to ensure staff learn to use any new software properly, adding that the training process benefits individual employees—and, thus, the entire hotel team—by equipping them with yet another proficiency. “I think the guest experience, the operational integrity, and the revenue-generating opportunities of lost and found are super important. But I think we’re also seeing an emerging trend in reskill capability.”

Ensure Compliance

Most lost tech items have personal identifiable information. Therefore, hotel staff must handle those devices with data privacy regulations and liabilities in mind. Mosieur notes that when recycling unclaimed devices, ensuring data is completely wiped is of the utmost importance. That goes for donations as well; hotels must verify that any organization and third party that processes unclaimed electronics are properly handling and thoroughly wiping data from those devices. “Be sure that whoever is getting the device guarantees data is deleted and will provide you with something in writing that says that. Some may even go as far as having an insurance policy and share what their process is to guarantee that the data is deleted,” Mosieur adds.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the like are filled with personal identifiable information, which, in the wrong hands, can damage a hotel’s relationship with guests, its reputation, and lead to legal and financial consequences. Hoteliers must comply with laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when housing and processing lost items to avoid reputational damage and hefty fines and penalties. Brian Colodny, co-founder, president, and chief financial officer for Chargerback, adds, “If you’re using software that doesn’t meet, for example, CCPA and GDPR, and you’re exposing guests’ data, you’re liable—not just the software company but the hotel, too. So, when choosing a software provider, it’s important to make sure the software hotels are using meets the requirements.”

Digitizing lost and found operations, storing items safely with a unique label, and simplifying the process for entering what is found for staff and claiming what is lost for guests allows for personal items to be safely returned to the customer, ensuring guest satisfaction beyond check out.

Top 10 Found Items

According to 2021 data supplied by Chargerback, the top 10 items reported as “found” by the company’s various partners include:

  1. Credit or Debit Card
  2. Cellphone
  3. Wallet
  4. Shirt
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Charger
  7. Driver’s License
  8. Prescription glasses
  9. Coat or Jacket
  10. Cap or Hat
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Robin McLaughlin is associate editor of LODGING.